Pope Liberius, a Roman, became pope on April
17, 352, amid the Arian crisis of the 4th century.
Arians believed that Jesus was not identical in substance
to the Father. Church doctrine ascribes to the homoousion formula
which identifies the Divinity of Christ and states that Jesus is of the same
substance as the Father, a dogma affirmed at the First Vatican Council at
Nicaea in 325.
The Arian Emperor of the day, Constantius, claimed "My
will is the canon." The emperor claimed to rule the Church.
Emperor Constantius knew he had no hope of uniting
Christians by a semi-Arian formula if Pope Liberius continued to defend
orthodoxy. Saint Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria (328–73), Doctor
of the Church, champion of orthodoxy, professed the infallible doctrine taught
by the Council of Nicaea.
Emperor Constantius, at a council held in Milan in 353,
demanded that Saint Athanasius be condemned and warned the bishops to obey the
emperor or face exile. Some bishops refused, and they were promptly
Pope Liberius refused to sign the condemnation of
Saint Athanasius, so Emperor Constantius tried, unsuccessfully, to bribe Pope
Liberius. Emperior Constantius then exiled Pope Liberius and named the
antipope, Felix II.
Weakened by two years of exile and wishing to return to
Rome, Pope Liberius withdrew his support of the Nicaean dogma on the
Divinity of Christ by agreeing to an Arian formula that declared the Son is
"like" the Father. Then, Pope Liberius proceeded to condemn and
excommunicate Saint Athanasius. These actions were considered heresy by
many. Once Pope Liberius submitted, Emperor Constantius recalled Pope
Liberius from exile, and the antipope, Felix II, was expelled by the Romans.
After his return, Pope Liberius continued to fight
for orthodoxy. He had the satisfaction of seeing the Arians split into
factions and then rapidly decline.
Pope Liberius died September 24, 366 and was buried
at the cemetery of Priscilla in a catacomb on the Via Salaria in Rome.